WSU brings ambulatory care expertise to rural Washington

Matthew Nelson’s new position at Providence Centralia Hospital is partially funded by generous donations to the Rural Health Initiative and part of an ongoing effort to bring accessible care to rural and underserved communities.  

Matthew Nelson always knew that he wanted to offer care in a rural setting. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Nelson was recently hired as an assistant professor who will lead students on rotations in the pharmaceutical care clinic at Providence Centralia Hospital. Drawn to the region by his wife’s desire to live near the ocean, Nelson is now excited to embark on his new role as a pharmacist and educator in the serene town of Centralia, a small lumber and mining community which sits halfway between Portland and Seattle.

“The most rewarding part about being a pharmacist is working with patients to help them manage chronic conditions like diabetes and witnessing tangible improvements in their health,” said Nelson who recognizes the critical role pharmacists play as the most accessible health care provider in a community. Providence Centralia Hospital, where Nelson will be precepting students, is a critical access hospital (CAH). The network of roughly 1,361 critical access hospitals across the country play a crucial role in providing essential health care services to underserved and rural communities. These hospitals receive special designation and reimbursement under Medicare to ensure access to care in remote areas of the country.

Growing up just outside of Wichita, Nelson developed a strong affinity for rural communities. For him, everywhere beyond the city limits felt like home, and he gained firsthand exposure to the unique challenges and needs of rural patients. This experience fueled his interest in rural health and shaped his decision to pursue a career dedicated to making a difference in these communities, which is what drew him to become a site preceptor and pharmacist at Providence Centralia Hospital.

“I know patients who work in the farming community are hesitant to seek medical care due to pressing farming demands…I hope I can tailor their care by understanding this aspect of their life,” said Nelson who recently completed his residency at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro, Oregon.

As a clinical assistant professor, Nelson plays a dual role, splitting his time between teaching courses on treating patients with gastrointestinal issues and working in the hospital clinic. In this role, he collaborates with patients dealing with hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, and various ambulatory care needs, while also overseeing students on rotation. Centralia, with its small-town charm and population of approximately 18,000, provides the perfect backdrop for his dedication to rural health.

“The most rewarding part about teaching students is seeing where they go after graduation. You really want to see your students go out into the world and make an impact,” said Nelson.

What attracted Nelson to his current position with WSU was the blend of professorial and clinical responsibilities, along with the opportunity to work with the Rural Health Initiative (RHI). He appreciates the rural setting and the chance to make a meaningful impact while being relatively far from the university campus. For Nelson, the connection to agricultural workers, a community he holds dear, resonates deeply.